WVU redshirt freshman Kevin Noreen (34) started against Marshall in place of injured Deniz Kilicli and contributed six points, five rebounds and a key hustle play in his 29 minutes of court time.
MORGANTOWN - In the days leading up to West Virginia's annual tussle with Marshall, Bob Huggins became increasingly aware that the Mountaineers would likely go into the game shorthanded.If it wasn't clear on Monday in the hours after 6-foot-9, 260-pound Deniz Kilicli turned an ankle in practice, it gradually became so on Tuesday and then Wednesday when Kilicli didn't improve.It was a major issue because Marshall was coming into the game leading the nation in both rebounding margin and offensive rebounds. So Huggins had to figure out a way to motivate his players to crash the boards even without the burliest of their board crashers.He could do it the old-fashioned way and work the Mountaineers to a frazzle the day before the game, complete with trips to the treadmill for those whose effort was lacking.
"I didn't want to run them that much,'' Huggins said as a concession to being in the middle of a long season with few breaks. "But if they weren't going to do what I asked them to do we were going to run them.''As it turns out, that wasn't necessary. A simple talk apparently did the trick."The only thing I told them when I knew that Deniz wasn't going to go for sure was, 'This isn't new for us,' '' Huggins said. "We've got about 20 feet of guys sitting on our bench who don't do us any good. And we had eight guys last year."I told them that we can sit here and feel sorry for ourselves and put our heads down or we can go figure out how to win the game.''The Mountaineers did that in a big way, of course, not only handling Marshall 78-62 for a rare lopsided win in the series, but outrebounding the Herd 37-27. It was the first time Marshall had lost a rebounding battle all season, and the Herd has games on its resume against No. 1 Syracuse and Cincinnati.
"Nobody feels sorry for us,'' Huggins said. "When we lost a couple of guys last year their heads went down and I said, 'Fellas, this can be a good thing. I'm going to have to play some of you I don't want to play sometimes. It can be a good thing.' ''Matters were compounded this year, though, because some of the guys who might have been given that chance couldn't take advantage. That's where the 20 feet of inactive players comes in. Freshman Pat Forsythe (6-foot-11) is likely to be redshirted and hasn't played since mid-December. Freshman Tommie McCune (6-8) has been used sparingly. And transfer Aaric Murray (6-10) is ineligible until next season.Toss in Kilicli and the inactive length grows to just over 27 feet of players.So Huggins turned to 6-10 redshirt freshman Kevin Noreen and 6-8 junior college transfer Dominic Rutledge. While they combined for just eight rebounds, that was more than Kilicli's average of 5.4 and, more significantly, it kept the Mountaineers from having a void in the middle that Marshall could attack.There were even some advantages to having Noreen in the starting lineup and on the floor for 29 minutes.
"He gives us some things that, quite frankly, Deniz doesn't give us,'' Huggins said. "He passes the ball and he keeps the ball moving for us. And I thought he did a good job rebounding the ball.''
Perhaps, but Noreen's best play didn't involve jumping for a rebound or blocking out. Rather, it was falling to the floor.Or, more specifically, diving to it.With just over 14 minutes to play, Wednesday night's game was still up for grabs. West Virginia led just 42-37 and another of its rebounders, freshman Keaton Miles, had just gone to the bench with his third foul.But after a missed Marshall 3-pointer, Noreen dove to the floor in a scramble for the loose ball and he and freshman Gary Browne called for a timeout to preserve possession. At the time it seemed perhaps a wasted use of a timeout, given that it left the Mountaineers with just two over the final 14 minutes of what is almost always a close game.Without the ball, though, Marshall might well have scored to close the gap to three or two points. With it, West Virginia had perhaps its most important possession of the game, getting four shots and three offensive rebounds - two of them after Marshall players lost the ball out of bounds - before scoring on a Jabarie Hinds jumper to make it 44-37.It was part of the 10-0 run that gave WVU the lead for good, and that four-shot possession completely deflated the Herd. It might not have been possible without Noreen diving to the floor for a loose ball.
Marshall coach Tom Herrion certainly noticed."Ball is on the floor and they dove and we bent,'' Herrion said of the play. "There is a big difference.''With another crucial stretch of Big East games coming up - home with Cincinnati Saturday afternoon and then trips to St. John's and No. 1 Syracuse next week before a Big Monday home game with Pitt - West Virginia might have to do it all again. Huggins said he had no idea about the status of Kilicli, who was in a walking boot for Wednesday's game."I'm like [evangelist] Ernest Angley. I heal everybody,'' Huggins said. "Everybody who's hurt and can't play, when they play us they play. The only person I really haven't been able to heal is Deniz. I don't know what it is. I don't think Deniz understands how important it is for me to continue my streak."But that's what it is. It's a long year. When you get bounced off the floor and you're banging knees and running into people and turning ankles, that happens.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org